Resurrection – how is it lived out?

Gordon MackleyPosted on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 by Gordon Mackley

John 21:15-25

The background to this passage is that Peter denied Jesus three times just before Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter now needs reconciliation with Jesus. This is different to forgiveness, explored later. The discussion follows the fishing expedition of some of the disciples and the breakfast cooked on the shore for them by Jesus.

When Jesus asks Peter in verse 15…

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

…we need to understand to what ‘these’ refers. The Greek gives three possibilities but the most likely of these is that the reference is to the fishing.

Jesus is trying to probe Peter to see if he has decided himself where he is going. This is an essential part of the reconciliation process. Forgiveness is done by the person harmed alone, but reconciliation requires the person who has done the harm to also be involved.

Forgiveness can be swift but reconciliation may take a long time. It is very easy if we feel we have messed up badly to believe that we cannot be any further use to God and that we might as well give up on that and go back to doing what we did before. This is an awful lie. God knows that we are flawed and is very happy to forgive us as Jesus forgave Peter. We need to reassess where we are at (as Peter had to do) and ensure that we are again reconciled with God and his purposes, so that we can carry on with He has planned for us.

Verse 15 continues…

“Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

As Jesus goes through this process with Peter, he asks the same question three times, but after Peter has replied, Jesus gives three replies which to us as 21st century westerners may seem very odd,

15‘Feed my lambs’, 16‘take care of my sheep’, 17‘feed my sheep’

This is clearly a farming metaphor (Jesus did not own any real sheep) and we may be used to other Biblical references to sheep (and goats) especially perhaps the famous passage in Matthew 25 – but do we know the background to the use of this particular language?

Here we must remember that although many of us are not perhaps as familiar as we should be with the Old Testament, in Jesus’ day, even the less well educated people would have known their scripture (our ‘Old Testament’) well. Peter would therefore have recognised the allusion to Ezekiel 34.

This is a paraphrased version of that chapter,

You shepherds take care of yourselves, but you never tend the sheep. They are weak, sick, wounded, strayed and lost. The sheep are easy prey because there is no shepherd. I will rescue my sheep from you. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep and I will find them a place to rest.

You shepherds are also my sheep. You are fat and strong and healthy while the others are skinny and weak and suffering. You are, in fact, goats. You tread down the good pasture after you’ve eaten; you muddy the water after you have drunk from it; you butt the weak aside and scatter them.

I will judge between sheep and sheep, between sheep and goats. I will rescue my sheep from you “shepherds”. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep and I will find them a place to rest. I will bless my sheep with water, food, safety, home, freedom, fearlessness, and satisfied minds.

This is thus a clear prophecy that the Jewish temple priestly system of worship would become so corrupt that God would take over as the ‘shepherd of the sheep’ personally.

This is exactly what happened with Jesus describing himself often as this ‘Good Shepherd’.

The judgment on the ‘fat and strong’ who paid no regard to the skinny, weak and suffering would come in AD70 when following the siege of Jerusalem by Roman forces, the Temple would be destroyed, the Temple worship system thus ended and many of the ruling priestly classes killed.

As Jesus is shortly to ascend back to Heaven, he now transfers the responsibility of looking after the sheep to Peter (and the other disciples by extension). Jesus of course, was fully aware of exactly what was going to happen and had warned about it often, especially in Matthew’s Gospel.

The last part of the conversation between Jesus and Peter from verse 18 onwards is Jesus advising Peter that he will be martyred for his efforts (traditionally crucified upside down).

There is a lesson for us all here in that although Jesus is kind and gentle towards Peter, despite his past failings, he nonetheless does not shy away from being straight and honest about the unpleasant things;

Peter is going to be called upon to lay down his life for Jesus’ Kingdom, which he had sworn to do previously in John 13:37–38, but in which respect he had completely failed. It is important that Peter is now completely reconciled to Jesus and this future which Jesus has mapped out.

This was not the best news in the world for Peter (a nasty death on a cross) and we are reminded here that Peter had previously trusted in his own strength and lost his nerve. Now he will need the power of the Holy Spirit, which he and the other disciples are about to receive in spectacular fashion.

The response of Peter seeing John following is totally human, ‘What about him? Is he going to be martyred too?’ Jesus essentially says to Peter, ‘Mind you own business!’.

We live in a western world obsessed with the idea of fairness, but with a reality which is exactly the opposite of being fair. God is not fair (check out Matthew 20:1-16) but He is just and gracious. If we could stop comparing our lives to others and saying, “it’s not fair!” but instead be just and gracious, the world would be a much better place.

Verse 24 identifies the author of the book as John, whilst verse 25 then reminds us that although God has arranged for us to have written down what we need, it is far from all that went on. We need therefore to remember this and be humble when discussing interpretations of passages to both Christians and non-Christians, we do not know what it is that we do not know!

Acts 11:19-30

The link (as they might say in broadcasting) between these two passages is that although Acts talks about Barnabas and Paul, tradition holds to Peter as the founder of the church of Antioch around AD34.

Antioch was a common name for a city and there were actually fifteen ‘Antiochs’ at this time. Acts lists two that Paul visits, so this Antioch is different to that which appears in Acts 13 (that is ‘Pisidian Antioch’).

This Acts 11 Antioch is ‘Syrian Antioch’ (or ‘Antioch of the Orontes’) although it is now called Antakya and located in modern day Turkey (as is the other Acts ‘Antioch’).

It was about 300 miles (480 kilometres) north of Jerusalem and about 20 miles (32 kilometres) inland from the Mediterranean. It was the third greatest city in the Roman Empire, behind Rome and Alexandria. With a port on a navigable river and at a crossroads of land based trade routes, Antioch was known for its business and commerce.

It was what we should now call multi-cultural and was noted for its sophistication and culture. It was a huge city and although modern day Antakya only has around 3,500 inhabitants, Antioch at this time had 300,000 free people and a further 200,000 slaves.

The city had paved streets, with colonnades and amphitheatres. Archaeology on the site has revealed that they even had two rival chariot racing teams, the ‘Blues’ and the ‘Greens’ with ‘up the Blues’ etc. found in the ruins – nothing changes!

There was a darker side to this sophisticated and large business centre however and there were Temples to the cult of Artemis and Apollo at Daphne, five miles distant, where the ancient Syrian worship of Astarte and her consort, were also carried out.

The worship in these pagan religions involved ritual prostitution and Antioch was so well known for its general moral laxity that it was described as ‘immoral’ and ‘degenerate’ by those who lived in Rome at the time, which bearing in mind what went on there was a damning indictment indeed!

So why died the Jewish Christians from Judea go there?

There were already Diaspora Jews (those who lived outside Palestine and maintained their religious faith among the Gentiles) living there, enjoying the rights of Roman citizenship. They were very active in converting Gentiles to Judaism and had a large following of these proselytes (those who followed Jewish religious practice but who were not racially Jewish).

Thus it was not that surprising that Jewish Christian converts fleeing the persecution in Jerusalem following the stoning of Stephen should also came to Antioch.

These Christian Jews became the first example of Christians deliberately targeting Gentiles (like us!) for evangelism and their effort yielded great results.

Acts tells us that ‘the hand of the Lord was with them’ and we should all remember that a ministry cannot turn people to the Lord unless the hand of the Lord is with it. We must allow the Lord to lead us. We cannot lead Him.

Verse 21 states that they ‘believed and turned to the Lord’. This is a description of both faith and repentance. They not only believed but changed their lifestyle as a result. Considering the earlier comments about the normal life of most citizens of Antioch, this must have been a tremendous change and a great witness to others.

The church in Jerusalem recognised that what was happening was from God. They wanted to assist those at Antioch and so they sent Barnabas, ‘an able man previously known for his generosity’ (Acts 4:36-37) and his warm acceptance of Saul after he was converted (Acts 9:26-28).

Barnabas inspired by the Holy Spirit recognises that the church is growing quickly but needs to be consolidated, so he does that personally, focusing on his main job as a leader of the congregation and he strengthens the church family with the result that a great many more people are added to the Kingdom.

He also realises that he now needs help and so he seeks out Saul to help him. Saul duly comes across from Tarsus which is relatively close and where he has been for 12 years. (These years were undoubtedly not wasted or lost, but spent in quiet ministry and preparation for future service).

The two of them then spend a whole year getting the church established and not just leaving new Christians to ‘get on with it’.

This plan for Church growth is referred to in Ephesians 4:11-16.

Leaders in the church dedicate themselves to building strong, healthy Christians. As they are equipped for the work of the ministry, they grow into maturity and so does their ministry, causing more growth of the body. Whilst evangelising new Christians and increasing congregations is of course good, this needs to be followed up and their faith consolidated or otherwise there is a very real risk of them falling away again.

Barnabas and Saul understood this nearly 2000 years ago but there is always a real danger that in the zeal of evangelism, we may forget the lesson!

Antioch became a centre for great teaching and preaching (in stark contrast to its previous reputation). However, informal preaching from ‘lay’ people continued. This combination of great formal and informal teaching/preaching made the church community in Antioch something special and world-impacting.

If we wish our church to have an impact, we need to follow this lesson and ensure that the leadership and all the congregation are involved in spreading God’s word, bringing in new people and then consolidating their faith into maturity in the church, so that they can then go and do the same. God’s work in a church cannot be done by the leadership alone but requires everyone to be working together in harmony.

The last part of this passage concerns a man called Agabus, who clearly has the gift of prophecy and who stood up and showed that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world. That this prophecy came true is confirmed by other non-Biblical sources and these show that “Claudius’s Principate was marked by a succession of bad harvests and consequent scarcity in various parts of the empire – in Rome, Greece, and Egypt as well as in Judea.”

The church here gives generously, ‘each according to his ability’, to send relief to Christians dwelling in Judea, people whom most of them (as Gentiles from Syria) would never have known or met.

This is a quote from Boice (a US theologian), ‘As far as I know, this is the first charitable act of this nature in all recorded history – one race of people collecting money to help another people. No wonder they were first called Christians at Antioch.’

This word, ‘Christian’ was probably coined in Antioch originally as a term of abuse by those against the new faith, but over the years we have become proud to bear the title. So what about us?

We know of famines not in the future but now, affecting our brothers and sisters across the world, together with shortage of water, shelter and sanitation.

What is it that we are doing to be called ‘Christians’?

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